How to choose the best cover crop


How to choose the best cover crop

Cover crops play a significant role in the farmer’s field. Typically, cover crops are planted between harvests or for winter protection. They are considered temporary plants that provide many benefits for the cash crop and the soil and usually are not intended to be harvested as a crop. However, some cover crops, such as wheat, barley and oats can also be harvested and sold.


The benefits of planting cover crops

The benefits of planting cover crops far surpass the negative impact of having bare soil for a large portion of the year.

Planting a large variety of species allows for the environment to be biodiverse.

The root systems of the cover crop plants also improve soil properties. They are the most straightforward and most sensible form of erosion control you can implement, especially if the cover crop is dense.  Legumes like clover, vetch and peas are ideal due to their nitrogen-fixing properties.

Cover crops improve soil aeration, water retention, and infiltration, thus allowing the soil to retain water, rather than creating run off and take the topsoil with it. The Grain covers such as oats, rye, annual grasses and wheat are excellent for this purpose.

A diverse cover crop or companion crop scenario is a smart option for pest prevention and weed suppression. The Broadleaf portion of a cover crop such as mustard and buckwheat are the best species for this kind of problem.

Biodiversity is a crucial element in choosing, planting and maintaining a successful cover crop.


Considerations in choosing a cover crop

There are several things you should consider when it comes down to choosing a cover crop.

To make your soil sustainable, you need diversity. When you consider a healthy, flourishing ecosystem, there are often over 100 species of grasses, forbs, and shrubs in that ecosystem.

Cover crops bring organic substance, preventing its impoverishment. This improves soil fertility, which can be attributed to the stimulation of microbiological activity and humus increment in the soil.

To determine best cover crop species for the particular field, you should consider the benefits of the different types of cover crops. Once you have a plan for your fields and decide on the purpose of your chosen plantings, you can select the species that fit your timeframe and the benefits you desire.

Types of cover crops

There are three types of cover crops that are considered the primary species to be utilized, and they each offer their own specific benefits and challenges:

Grains – Crops such as rye, annual grasses, oats, and wheat build biomass and break up soil compaction with extensive root systems. Their leaves also improve water infiltration by slowing down rain or overhead irrigation.

Legumes –  Clover, vetch, peas, and soybeans are commonly known as nitrogen-fixers, meaning the plant can take nitrogen out of the air and store it in nodules in the roots of the plant.

Broadleaves – Species such as mustard, buckwheat, and alyssum germinate quickly and are great plants to assist in shading out weeds, and they are easy to turn in for nutrient benefits.


Cover crops include a diverse array of species and plant types, and they can be used at various times of the year.

Cool-season or Winter/Autumn cover crops are best planted in the fall on crop fields, or overseeded into dormant warm-season perennial grass pastures. Warm-season cover crops, however, are usually planted in the spring.


Warm-Season Crops

  • Brassicas
  • Browntop Millet and Foxtail Millet
  • Buckwheat
  • Cowpeas
  • Flax
  • Guar
  • Mungbeans
  • Okra
  • Pearl Millet
  • Sorghum Species
  • Soybeans
  • Sunflowers
  • Sunn Hemp


Secondary Warm-Season crops

Other cover crop species may perform well in the warmer seasons. This will depend on the environment and your goals for the cover crop. The secondary choices include grazing corn, sweet clover, oats, chicory and squash.


Cool-Season Crops

  • Barley
  • Brassicas
  • Crimson Clover
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • Triticale
  • Vetch
  • Wheat
  • Winter Pea

Secondary Cool-Season Species

As with the secondary warm-season species, other cool-season species may perform well in the cool season. Again, they depend on the environment and your goals for the cover crop. The secondary choices several different clovers (rose and white, arrowleaf and persian), ryegrass, flax, chicory, and winter lentils

For more information or assistance on choosing the right cover crop for your farm, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our friendly team at Cropaia today.


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